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UW Medicine now testing for coronavirus at Seattle laboratory

UW Medicine and the Washington State Public Health Laboratory in Shoreline are currently the only two locations in the state that can test for COVID-19.

SEATTLE — UW Medicine has received expedited permission from the federal government to begin testing for the coronavirus, or COVID-19. 

The test was developed by experts in Seattle in the virology division of Laboratory Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“Every virus is a little different, but this is the most challenging one that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Dr. Alex Greninger of the UW Medicine Clinical Virology Laboratories.

Before the first case of COVID-19 reached the United States, a team of scientists at UW Medicine was already working on a test to detect the virus.

“Seattle and the West Coast are the front lines of this virus…what we can do to protect the rest of the United States,” Greninger continued.

Over the weekend, the team was granted approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin diagnostic testing for COVID-19. 

“The test is currently being run on a daily basis the lab is now operating 24 hours a day,” said Dr. Keith Jerome of the UW School of Medicine.

The lab started testing on Tuesday and anticipates being able to test 1,000 to 1,500 samples per day by the end of the week. 

“We’re ahead today, I don’t know tomorrow. That’s the unknown and that’s what we’re trying to prepare for,” Jerome said.

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Currently, UW Medicine and the Washington State Public Health Laboratory in Shoreline are the only locations that can test for the virus in the state. 

While the capacity for testing for the virus is quickly expanding, only a patient's physician or healthcare provider can order the test based on the patient's risk factors and symptoms. 

“There is the capacity to do more testing and it’s not as restrictive as it was but people need to be really sick,” Jerome said.

The Washington State Department of Health has posted on its website the criteria for who can be tested for the virus. 

Right now, officials said not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19 and people with flu-like symptoms are not being tested for the virus unless they meet certain criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has widened the criteria in the last week to include people who are hospitalized with symptoms that are otherwise unexplained, according to health officials. That's in addition to testing people with a history of travel from affected areas and people who have had contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case. 

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Public Health Seattle & King County said before going to the doctor's office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your symptoms and recent travel. 

Your healthcare provider will give you instructions on how to get care quickly while preventing exposure to others and will determine whether you should be tested for COVID-19. 

The criteria for testing people may change in the coming weeks as the situation continues to evolve. 

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